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Festival draws lots of fans

Thousands of music enthusiasts flocked to the 17th Annual Blind Willie Blues Festival near Thomson last Saturday.

The large crowd, estimated at more than 2,000 people, included both local and far away blues fans, as well as some of the finest blues bands and recording artists in the country.

The headliner band was the famed Little Feat, which performed on Saturday night. Earlier in the day, other blues bands entertained the large crowd -- many of whom listened while soaking up sun rays in front of the large stage that was set up for musicians in an open field off Stagecoach Road, near Belle Meade Country Club.

The local blues festival is named after the famed blind musician, Willie McTell, who lived in the Happy Valley community of South McDuffie County for several years and traveled around the country singing and playing blues music. One of his most recognized pieces was The Statesboro Blues .

"People came early and stayed late," said Don Powers, one of the local coordinators of the Blind Willie Blues Festival.

As far as the festival coming together this year, Mr. Powers said he was most pleased.

"We tried to make sure that we put our best foot forward and I think we did," said Mr. Powers.

"We had a very good grassroots effort by volunteers. I can't say enough good things about our volunteers and how important they are to us every year."

The festival drew lots of people interested in the history of Blind Willie McTell. A book, authored by an English writer, Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes, In Search of Blind Willie , was prominently displayed by a vendor. By late afternoon, it was reported that several copies of the book had been sold.

Mr. McTell, who is buried at Grove Baptist Church in the same area where he grew up, "was a fascinating character from everything I've heard and read about him," said Dennis Rabun, who lives in the Raysville Community of McDuffie County.

Even though sightless, Willie McTell was known to travel by train from his home in the Happy Valley community of McDuffie County to Atlanta, Savannah, New York and other cities playing his music.

"He was fearless," added Mr. Rabun, who makes wooden frames for drawings of the late blues singer.

The wood used in his picture frames came from an old dilapidated house in the Southern end of McDuffie County where Mr. McTell gathered to entertain those who took a liking to his music years ago.

The drawings are done by Henry Wynn, of North Augusta, S.C.

Web posted on Thursday, May 20, 2010

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